Sometimes life takes you in a different direction than you planned.
Such is the case for Drew Munro, who grew up in Chilliwack before going on to culinary school in Italy and achieving his dream of being a chef. His life plan never included being the CEO of a food-tech startup, but that’s what he’s doing now as the head of UpMeals.
“If you’d asked me four years ago if I’d be CEO of a food-tech company that deploys high-tech vending machines, I would have told you you were crazy,” the 37-year-old laughs. “But one of the things I’ve learned through this journey is to focus on what it is you’re passionate about and what you want to achieve, and for me it’s always been about making delicious food and helping people enjoy it and access it.”
Munro’s company hopes to replace old-school vending machines stocked with potato chips and chocolate bars with high tech machines selling fresh salads, juices and power bowls.
He says it’s going well.
UpMeals ‘smart’ machines can be found on campus at UBC and SFU and at B.C. Ferries terminals. One of the first corporate partners to come on board was Telus, which welcomed an UpMeals machine into its Vancouver head office after hearing a sales pitch from Munro.
“We said, ‘This is something new. You can be a part of it and we’d love to have you and your employees be our first partners,’” Munro recalls. “Telus was an amazing early partner. To have all those great people using our machine and giving us great feedback, it allowed us to ‘level up’ in a short amount of time, certainly much faster than we would have testing in our office alone.”
Munro calls himself a “late bloomer” where entrepreneurship is concerned, describing himself as shy and reserved during his high school days. But he suspects the spark was always there, and when he struck out on his own to work as a private chef, he says he was “bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.”
“I was still very inexperienced, just happy to be earning my own money doing what I loved, but that’s when started to fall in love with the idea of uniting people behind an idea and having a team,” Munro says. “All of these things became more natural, but it’s not something where from an early age it was my destiny or calling. It was something I fell into, frankly.”
Munro may be a corporate leader now, but being a chef is still in his blood and he says he gets into the ‘food lab’ all the time.
“But never as often as I’d like,” he says. “If I had my choice I’d spend all of my time there, but I am heavily hands-on on the R&D (research and development) side, working with our amazing chefs and marketing team to look at the data, see what our customers are responding to and help build new items. I always want to be a part of that.
“None of our technology matters if the food sucks.”
Munro is also enjoying the team building and team leading aspects of being a CEO, calling it the most important part of his job and biggest skill any entrepreneur needs to develop.
“Realize that as the leader of a company you’re working for the employees and not the other way around,” he explains. “Your job is to develop the mission and vision and make sure all these talented people you are hopefully bringing onto your team understand 100 per cent what the company is trying to achieve and where it’s going.”
If early success indicates future success, Munro and UpMeals are both on the right track.
“The plan is for UpMeals to be a global company, a global brand,” he says. “How we would define success is when no one in the world has to worry, day or night, about having access to a fresh, healthy meal. That no one would have a bag of chips or pack of instant noodles as their only option.
“We’d like for our solutions to become so ubiquitous that no one would even think of building a new university or apartment building or office without having an UpMeals solution installed.”
For more info on Munro and UpMeals, visit upmeals.ca/investors/